Monday, November 12, 2012

Marsha Mason in Chapter Two

Marsha Mason received her third nomination in the Best Actress category for playing Jennie MacLaine, a fictionalized version of herself in the movie Chapter Two. Marsha hadn't received any awards for this performance, only a Golden Globe nomination in Best Actress - Musical/Comedy where she really didn't have much of a chance of winning, either considering she was nominated alongside the powerhouse performance of Bette Midler. I suppose Chapter Two combined with Promises in the Dark ensured Marsha's position in that year's Best Actress line-up. I'm not sure, though, if she was able to get ahead of Jill Clayburgh (probably not) so unlike the other years, Marsha didn't have any chance of winning (not even her biggest fans love this performance of hers as much as, say Only When I Laugh). 

Chapter Two, quite frankly, is a terrible movie that I have no intention of rewatching in the foreseeable future, only if someone's life depends on it. Although it's not Gloria or The Morning After level of horribleness, it's pretty much like Afterglow: pointless, boring, it's just dragging with the viewer literally praying for it to end quickly. I really admire Neil Simon as a writer, but I suppose his material always works much better on stage (except for the outrageously funny comedies, like The Odd Couple or Barefoot in the Park). His exagerrated, unrealistic style works wonderfully on stage, but leads to forced and boring movies that are uplifted by the performances. I must say, though, that nobody uplifts Chapter Two: not James Caan and not even my dear Valerie Harper. 

Well, nobody, except for Marsha Mason. Just like in Cinderella Liberty, Marsha doesn't give a totally amazing, mindblowing performance, but she illuminates the screen anyhow whenever she's present in a scene. Although I wouldn't say that I'm a huge fan of hers, I admire her luminous aura that's best displayed in The Goodbye Girl. It's true that that her marriage to Neil Simon gave some boost to her career, her performances have their respective merits as well. While Simon wrote some nice parts for Marsha, she was the heart and soul of these pictures.

That being said, in Chapter Two, Marsha had the easiest/hardest part: she basically had to play herself. Some people regard the performances of Gloria Swanson and Mickey Rourke in Sunset Blvd. and The Wrestler, respectively, as inferior ones since they basically recreate their own experiences. In those cases, you can easily dismiss these arguments since some similar events in the respective lives of these two performers only made the part more suitable for them. However, Marsha actually replays her life on the screen (in a fictionalised, more dramatised way, probably).

First of all, Chapter Two tries to become a touching potrait of two complicated people, searching for new meanings in life. In the beginning, Marsha's scenes rank with her best performances: her delivery is amazing, she gets all the lines, she's lovely, funny, dynamic and you just cannot wait to see more of her. Actually, I believe the scenes with James Caan kill her balanced, excellent work. First of all, Caan gives such a bored/boring performance that puts James Franco's Oscar hosting into shame. That being said, the chemistry could have worked between the two actors like it did in Cinderella Liberty, but, alas, it doesn't.

Also, while the movie was considered a Comedy at the Golden Globes, I felt it fell (flat) between Drama and Comedy. It pushed hard to be seen as serious, but Neil Simon just couldn't resist writing one or two ironic one-liners. As a result, for most of the time, the actors are standing there, completely clueless about what to do, hoping that the respect for Simon carries them to success. Unfortunately, I felt that abour Marsha as well. Sometimes she gave the character from The Goodbye Girl, sometimes she played her role from Only When I Laugh (in advance). I could almost see her crossing her fingers, saying "please let it go right". And it's actually right occasionally.

Still, the previously mentioned luminous presence of Marsha makes up for a number of things. Whenever the movie is unbearably boring and slow, Marsha makes you go on with the film. She develops her character quite well, actually, and it's interesting to see her how this movie obviously resonates with her own life. Although she's obviously playing herself, she fearlessly reveals intimate details about herself.

The movie gets a total chaos after the honeymoon and although Marsha seems to give up trying, she stands tall as much as the movie lets her. Although the last scenes seem to be painful recreations of The Goodbye Girl, I didn't mind, since Marha did what she does best: being charming and portraying happiness. Few people can deliver a happy ending like she does, that's for sure.

So I cannot conclude that Marsha turns in some really special work in Chapter Two, her performance adds some life to the movie and prevent it from becoming a cure for chronic insomnia. Her luminous, interesting presence and impeccable delivery make you go on with the movie. Still, since she's not able to pull of the harder, more emotional scenes, I'd say that this was more of a respectable, but a bit failed effort from a strong performer.

What do you think? And thanks to Alex again for providing me with access to the film!


Anonymous said...

The film really sinks any chances of her pulling anything off here. I fell asleep at least two times in the middle of this film, and was dreadfully bored the rest. I give her credit for trying but the movie drags her down so much.

Fritz said...

It's been a while since I saw it but I was not impressed.

mrripley said...

She should have been nominated for promises in the dark which is a different type of role for her,she is alittle cold but you find out how big her heart is as the film proceeds,gr8 susan clark support performance as an unloving mother.

dinasztie said...

mrripley: I'd be lying if I told you that I'm very interested in that movie though I feel I'll check it out if I come by it.

Louis Morgan said...

I have not seen this one. I like Mason though, its a shame that most of her prominent roles appear in Simon's films which I can't say I am all that fond of.